08 June 2009

After the storm

"Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike" - Oscar Wilde
Part 1
I heard many things in those days. I don’t know now, which ones are real and which ones are not. It was a time of confusion and chaos. Even today when I visit those places, I sense a kind of detachment. People, though look same have changed irreversibly. There is a kind of edginess. It’s like we are all waiting for something big to happen; something ominous.
Few days back, while taking my usual rounds in the park, I got a feeling that someone is watching. I turned suddenly, but no one was there. This thing happens to me now a day. It’s a new development. I no more have the care-free ness.

After the walk, I sat on the near by cement bench. There were few red blotches on it. I made a vain effort of erasing them; looks like they are permanent now. They will remind the future generations about the violent past. I figured, this could be the same bench where Suman, her friends call her Sumi, was sitting, waiting for her friends. I am talking about a time not very long back. It is very much possible, you might have seen Sumi yourself, sitting on this very bench. You would have paid her more attention, if you had the wind of events that followed.
------------ * --------------
Suman was with Tanu waiting for a third friend. Her hand caressed the rough texture of the clean park bench.
“How much more we have to wait?” she asked.
“Few more minutes, Maya will be here anytime now,” said Tanu.
“Where are the boys?”
“They are already inside.”
“What is the occasion?”
“No reason, I don’t need a reason for partying,” said Tanu.
“Did you invite – Romesh?”
“He adores you.”
“I know. But I have called Raj.”
“Why? You know how Romesh hates him.”
“I know. I just want Romesh to be jealous.” Tanu giggled.
“You silly, why did you do that?”
“You don't understand. You are a baby.”
”Don't call me that.” Sumi retorted.
Maya, the tomboy of the group, joined. “Sorry,” she said, “something came up.” Then she saw Suman.
“Oh! Baby is here,” she said, “It is going to be fun. Hello baby.”
“Don’t call me Baby”
“Don’t cry now. Let’s go from here. Boys are waiting”
------------ * --------------
There was a young crowd at the entrance.
“This is not a hotel; I told mother, that the party is at a hotel,” said Sumi.
“Technically it is a hotel. Don’t think too much,” said Tanu.
The bouncer was much over six feet and muscular. He was blocking most of the entrance.
"Is it not boring here,” Maya asked, “standing outside, when all the fun is going inside?"
He had seen her couple of times.
"This is my job, ma'am," he said.
“Do you wear sunglasses all the time?”
“Yes ma’am”
“Do you address all ladies as - ma’am?”
“Yes ma’am”
"I like people who call me ma’am,” Maya said coyly. “Someday, I may just hang around here with you, than go inside."
"That would be my pleasure. Ma'am," he said.
"Listen, we have a baby with us, is it fine?" She pointed to Suman.
He looked at Suman, gave a smile. Suman made a baby face.
“She is fine, ma’am”
"Madame Bovary –let’s go inside," someone from the back shouted.

------------ * --------------
Once inside, Sumi said: “Why they have such dim lights. I can't see properly.”
“Is this the first time you are coming here?” Maya asked.
“Okay, don’t ask questions, observe everything. You may not get a chance after your marriage. I am going to dance. Take my bag. I will see you soon.”
After a while she was dancing with Raj.
Sumi found Ram alone at the table. She sat next to him.
“Not to be seen these days?”
“I am studying inside closed doors for the finals,” he said.
“What are you going to do, afterwards?”
“You mean, after the exams?”
“I am not ready for the outside world. I may flunk and stay here for one more year,” He was joking. He was one of the toppers.
“Listen,” he said, “I may not come for your marriage. I will be going to Mumbai, immediately after the exams. I have couple of job offers.”
“Time up Ram,” Tanu was back with Raj and Maya. “You can not propose to her now. She is engaged”. She dragged Sumi away.
“I will be in touch, Sumi” he waved to her.
“There is something interesting, I want to tell you,” Tanu said.
“What?” Sumi got curious.
“There is a boy looking at you from that corner. Don’t look now!”
“I know”
“You know?”
“So you are not a baby after all.”
“Don’t call me baby.”
“What are you girls talking?” Raj asked from across the table.
“Sumi don’t get involved with these two girls. They will only bring you trouble”. He gave a mock warning.
“Ooo! The good Samaritan,” mocked Maya.
“Hey, Maya – what happened at the office?” Raj asked.
The professor had asked her to meet at the office after the class. She was caught launching a paper rocket.
“Meet me after the class,” the professor had said. She met him in his office room. By that time he had forgotten the whole matter. She reminded him why she was there. He wanted to tell something, but changed his mind. Instead he said: “I have a daughter of your age.” He waited for some time.
“I hope you will become a teacher someday,” he said finally, “And come across a student exactly like you.”
While coming back from the office room, she felt bit sad for the old man.
“What happened at the office?” Raj asked again.
“Go away Raj, I am not in a mood”
Raj turned to Tanu and Ram; they continued their conversation.
“Sumi, when is your marriage?” Maya asked.
“After the exams, date is not decided,” Sumi said.
“How is your fiancé?”
“He is good,” she blushed.
“How many times did you meet him?”
“Couple of times; is this an interrogation?”
”Yes. Did he kiss you?”
“Noooo!” Sumi rolled her eyes.
”How was it?”
”Your first Kiss.”
”I told you, he didn't do anything like that.”
”Okay,” Maya waited for few moments, “Tell me how was it?”
“You are shameless”
”I know. How was it?”
”It was nice.”
”Just nice?”
”I don't want to talk to you”
Sumi had met her fiancé once, after the engagement at a local restaurant. While exiting, near the door, for a brief moment they were alone. He opened the door for her. She was about to exit, when he kissed her on her right cheek; just a peck. It was brief and unexpected. Instinctively she raised her hand to slap him; then checked herself at the final moment. This was her fiancé, probably men are like that – she thought. At home she ran through the whole thing in her mind. She felt nice.
“May I get you anything?” asked the waiter.
“Yes,” said Maya, “What is the name of the genie standing at the door?”
“You mean the bouncer?”
“That is - Big John”
“An adjective in the name!” exclaimed Maya. “Could you do me a favor?”
“Could you give this glass to him? Tell him this is from the ma’am. He will understand.” she handed the drink to the waiter.
“Goddess is suddenly kind to the gentle giant,” Raj cooed.
“One of these days you are going to have it from me.”
“Ooo!” He feigned mock terror. “How I wait anxiously.”
------------ * --------------
Two hours later, they paid the bill and started out.
“I will join you in a minute” Sumi told Maya at the door.
“Where are you going?”
“I need to go to the restroom.”
“Come soon. We will wait out side.”
Sumi dashed inside; rest of the gang went out. When Sumi came out of the restroom she sensed something was wrong. Music had stopped. The hall was almost empty. She heard the noise of breaking glass at distant. Few tables were toppled, chairs were broken.
She was not prepared for this.
A group was ransacking furniture and wall-mountings. Some had hockey sticks. One of them saw her. She froze. The person came straight to her. Before she could say anything, he slapped her from the back of his hand.
“Parents send the children to school and this is where they come for study,” he said, “Is this your culture?”
He pushed her back; raised the hand again. But this time Big John held him from behind. Someone smashed a bottle on Big John’s head. He crashed. Sumi ran inside the restroom and locked the door. Outside noise continued.
No man had touched her before. Since she had no brothers, she was not used to having boys around. When the man slapped her, it was more of a psychological shock than physical pain.
Time passed. All along she feared someone would break the door.
She heard someone knocking her door.
“Open the door when you are done. I am waiting outside.”
She opened the door; saw the man in uniform. He took her to the adjacent room gave her a chair.
“Do you want some water?” he asked.
Part 2
She answered the cell phone on the fourth ring in her locked room.
"Sumi, Is that you on TV?"
That was her aunt from Mumbai. Media had reached the place before the police. They had a small clip shot on a handy-cam by an amateur. It was not significant: crowd out side the place, close-ups of demolished site, a stretcher carrying Big John, and a police man escorting Suman. Camera focused on her face for a brief moment. She stared the camera; just for few seconds. Then she was taken away. It was a short clip. But the media was running it on the national news channel every few minutes.
"Sumi, Is that you?"
”What were you doing there?”

Already, many had asked that question. She herself had asked few times. She kept quiet.
"Not surprising to me,” aunt said, “with the kind of friends you are having! How can you do this to your parents? Our pinky is better in that respect. She comes home on time, daily. Except one time she came late. I stopped her right at the door, locked her out for two hours, poor girl cried sitting on the stairs. What’s the use talking all that now? Your uncle is very upset. He didn’t go for his evening walk. I will disconnect now, meter is running like mad, these idiots meddle with the meter, I won’t call from this shop anymore. Don’t forget to give my regards to your parents.”

After the call, she switched off the cell.

------------ * --------------
Her fiancé called the next day on land line.
"Hello," she said.
"Suman? "

They were engaged last month.

"I got the news,” he said, “I tried to call, your cell is off."

Before the engagement, with parents’ consent, they had met at the local restaurant. They chose a table in the corner. He was handsome. She had liked him. Sumi's mama was sipping coffee, monitoring the couple, few tables across. It was all well planned. Sumi had given her consent to mama after the meeting. They were to marry after her studies.
"Sad about what happened," he was saying. "I don't think it was your fault.”
She was listening.
“..But my parents give much importance to culture. They want to call the whole thing off. I am sorry, I can’t oppose them."
There was a silence.
" My uncle will come to your home,” he said, " with the gifts presented at engagement, you can return..."
She didn't hear the rest.
------------ * --------------
Break fast was silent.
"I wonder how the boy's side will react now," her mom said.
"They are breaking off the engagement."
"what? How do you know?" mother asked in shock.
"Naresh called me."
Her dad continued eating. He had stopped talking to her. He didn't even look up. After the breakfast he quietly left the room.
Mother sobbed silently. “I don’t deserve this,” she said.

------------ * --------------
Kneeling on the ground, Sumi was searching for a book in the library, on the lowest rack. After a while she sensed someone standing near by. It was a narrow aisle. There was a middle aged woman. Suman thought may be she was blocking the woman. She stood up and stepped aside to make way for the woman. The woman didn't move. She looked at Suman for a long time. Then she went back.

Noisy places, on her entry, suddenly became quiet. Subsequently she stopped going out of the house.
------------ * --------------
“Someone is here to see you,” mother announced.
Sumi didn’t respond.
“You better see her in the room,” Sumi heard mother’s voice.
She saw Maya at the threshold.
“Didn’t see you in many days,” Maya said.
“I was not expecting you”
They talked casual things; carefully avoiding recent painful events.
“I better be going,” Maya said, sometime later.
“Thanks for coming,” said Sumi.
“Listen, I want to tell you something.”
Maya took a deep breath.
“Sad, all this happened to you. It should have happened to someone else, probably me.”
“Doesn’t matter now,” said Sumi.
“You are a nice person. Sometime bad things happen to good people. But life doesn’t come to a stop. You should move on with your life.” She took a brief pause. ”You are taking all this very bravely. I am very proud to have you as a friend.”
No friend had called Sumi. Her father was not in talking terms. She could not contain anymore. She sobbed quietly without covering her face. Tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Now com’on, don’t cry,” Maya tried to console her.
“It’s just that, I have not heard a positive thing, for so many days,” Sumi said between sobs.
------------ * --------------

Note: If you liked this short story, you might like my other short stories as well. Click here for more. 

Note: The story was first published here.

About Me…

Favorite Fiction
A tiger for Malgudi
The catcher in the rye
The dairy of a madman
The remains of the day
The Brothers Karamazov
The Idiot
Life of PI
To kill a mocking bird
Swamy and Friends
A prayer for Owen Meany

A son of the circus 
The world according to Garp
The Hotel New Hampshire
Empire Falls
Nobody's Fool
The Risk Pool

Favorite non fiction
Prayer of the Frog
How to win friends & influence ....
Suerly you must be joking Mr.Feynman
Teacher Man
Freedom at midnight
Favorite movies
Schindler's List
The shashawnk redemption
Life is beautiful
Seven Samurai
Little miss sunshine
Danny Deckchair
The secret in their eyes
Favorite Documentaries
Rivers and tides
Favorite Actors
Anthony Hopkins
Morgan FreemanPeter Sellers
Amitabh Bachhan
Sha Rukh Khan
Amir Khan
Favorite Writers
Charles Dickens
R K Narayan
Fyodor Dostoevsky
John Irving
Kazuo Ishiguro
Richard Russo
Favorite Directors
Alfred Hitchcock
Akira Kurasawa
Mani Rathnam
David Lean
steven spielberg
Coen Brothers
Favorite fictional characters
Prince Myshkin (The Idiot)
Yossarian (Catch 22)
Howard Roark (Fountain Head)
Rhett Butler (Gone with the wind)
Holden Caulfield ( The Catcher in the Rye)
Stevens ( The Remains of the day)